This is a sumptuous season for fairy tales. Lauren Child’s covetable version of The Princess and the Pea is the sort of book all real princesses will want to hoard beneath their pillows. There is the much less crafted, but fun, Mixed Up Fairy Tales, from Hilary Robinson and Nick Sharratt, which lets children play around with all the familiar components – like the old game of Tops and Tails ‘ so Goldilocks can be bossed around by two horrid stepsisters, then move in with seven dwarfs before being woken by a band of forty thieves.
But even amongst all this splendour, there is one new collection of fairy tales which has the quality of an heirloom, the kind of book you might buy for a child now, but sense that in thirty years it will be on a shelf, its vividness undimmed, for some other child to rediscover. Jan Pienkowski, (he of Meg, Mog ‘ check out page 15 of The Fairy Tales – and Owl fame), has gathered together the most popular tales of the brothers Grimm and illustrated them with such clarity and such novelty of vision it really is like new lamps for old.
All the favourites are here, Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, although I’m pretty sure this is the first time Sleeping Beauty has been depicted straight off the delivery bed.
I have been reviewing children’s books for some three years now, and the one lack in the market has been a collection of fairy tales to treasure. There are plenty of Disney-fied versions, and plenty of mediocre ones with pictures as flat as their narration. More often than not these books are labelled A Treasury.
Well let us now hail true treasure. In black and white silhouettes, on the thickest of white paper edged in silver, Pienkowski has reworked the oldest genre in the world with the most ancient of skills: real magic.